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Sunday, October 3, 2021

Prosocial behavior and altruism: A review of concepts and definitions

Pfattheicher, S., Nielsen, Y. A., & Thielmann, I. 
Current Opinion in Psychology
Available online 23 August 2021


The field of prosociality is flourishing, yet researchers disagree about how to define prosocial behavior and often neglect defining it altogether. In this review, we provide an overview about the breadth of definitions of prosocial behavior and the related concept of altruism. Common to almost all definitions is an emphasis on the promotion of welfare in agents other than the actor. However, definitions of the two concepts differ in terms of whether they emphasize intentions and motives, costs and benefits, and the societal context. In order to improve on the conceptual ambiguity surrounding the study of prosociality, we urge researchers to provide definitions, to use operationalizations that match their definitions, and to acknowledge the diversity of prosocial behavior.

Concluding remarks

Together with many other researchers, we share the excitement about the study of prosocial behavior. To more strongly connect (abstract) theory and (concrete) behavior we need to carefully define and operationalize our constructs. More conceptual work is needed to clearly distinguish prosocial behavior from altruism and other types of prosocial behavior (such as cooperation and helping), and we should take care to avoid using the terms interchangeably. We hope that the present paper will encourage scholars targeting prosocial behavior or altruism in their research to use definitions more often and mindfully—to further develop the exciting field of prosocial behavior.